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ASU poets laureate win fellowships from the Academy of American Poets

Laura Tohe and Rosemarie Dombrowski will lead civic programs to promote poetry in the Navajo Nation and Phoenix

May 29, 2020

Two Arizona State University professors are now among a prestigious class of poets that have been selected by the Academy of American Poets for fellowships made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Laura Tohe, a professor emeritus with distinction in ASU’s Department of English and Rosemarie Dombrowski, inaugural poet laureate of Phoenix and instructor of women’s literature and medical humanities in ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, are among the academy’s 2020 Poets Laureate Fellows. academy of american poets logo Download Full Image

Tohe and Dombrowski are among 23 individuals serving as poets laureate of states, cities, counties and the Navajo Nation who will be leading civic poetry programs in their respective communities in the coming year. Each fellow will receive $50,000 for a combined total of $1.1 million. The academy will also provide $66,500 to 12 local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that have agreed to support the fellows’ proposed projects.

Tohe’s project will further her work with students in the Navajo Nation through poetry-writing workshops and programs that focus on the Navajo language, which is listed as vulnerable by UNESCO.

“Writing poetry in Navajo supports revitalizing our language and recitation of our oral tradition,” Tohe said. “For this purpose, I will select a school with a Navajo language immersion program for the workshop.”

Laura Tohe

Laura Tohe. Photo by J Morgan Edwards

Tohe had planned to work in person with students on the Navajo Nation homeland but due to the coronavirus outbreak that has hit members of the Navajo Nation particularly hard, she will conduct her workshops through the online video conference platform Zoom with the support of school administration.

For her project, Dombrowski will present the interactive Phoenix Poetry Walk that will take place across multiple venues on Phoenix’s historic Grand Avenue. It will feature 50 unique readings by poetry-focused organizations across a six-hour period. Dombrowski hopes the walk will inject poetry into the community not only by exposing Phoenix residents to all forms of spoken word, but by engaging them in the poetic process via interactive elements like a magnetic poetry wall, poets writing poetry on demand for the public, the live installation of a poetic mural, and an after-hours open-mic.

Rosemarie Dombrowski

Rosemarie Dombrowski Photo credit: Enrique Garcia

Read the full list of 2020 Poets Laureate Fellows.

The Academy of American Poets, through its Poets Laureate Fellowship program, has become the largest financial supporter of poets in the nation. The Mellon Foundation awarded the academy $4.5 million in January of this year to fund the fellowship program through 2022. This year, in response to the global health crisis, the academy launched the #ShelterInPoems initiative, inviting members of the public to select poems of comfort and courage from its online collection to share with others on social media. The academy is also one of seven national organizations that comprise Artist Relief, a multidisciplinary coalition of arts grantmakers and a consortium of foundations collaborating to provide funding to individual poets, writers and artists who are impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Interactive model simulates keeping house on Mars

May 29, 2020

New computer platform for citizen scientists investigates potential closed-loop life support systems for Mars habitat

It’s 2040. You are on the first team to settle on Mars. You live in a habitat that has been designed by the finest minds on Earth. Keeping you all alive is a physicochemical system that produces oxygen, scrubs carbon dioxide and trace contaminants, and regulates pressure. There is also a biological life support system with a full vegetable garden.

You monitor these systems because survival depends on it. Earth is six months away. But humans and plants have different needs and different life cycles. One day the carbon dioxide and methane levels are spiking. You add more oxygen into the hab. But it doesn’t work. The levels climb. The plants die. Months later the resupply ship arrives to find the hab has become a tomb.

Living off world will not be as simple as a science fiction movie. SIMOC — a new scalable interactive model of an off-world community — drives this home. The model is a pilot project from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration Interplanetary Initiative.

A research-grade computer model and web interface for citizen scientists of all ages to design and operate a human habitat on the red planet, SIMOC is anything but a game. It was built on published data for mechanical life support systems (like those used on the International Space Station) and bioregeneration (sustaining human life with plants) with guidance from experts at NASA, Paragon Space Development, ASU and the University of Arizona.

The web interface enables citizen scientists to test Mars habitats of their own design. The objective is to find the minimum complexity required to sustain human life off-world, for long duration missions. And the minimum complexity is not minimal at all.

“It is difficult to find the careful balance of humans, machines, plants, food and electrical power,” said Kai Staats, project lead and a veteran developer of platforms for science research and education.

SIMOC dashboard

“Water and air must be recycled,” Staats said. “In a completely sealed system there is no such thing as ‘throw it away’ nor can you just run down the street to buy more — of anything! Every breath you take, every drink of water you enjoy, every bit of nutrition you consume must find its way back to you over and over again. … The questions SIMOC helps us answer are: How do we transition from mechanical life support systems to something plant-based such that our air, water, and waste are in part, if not in full, recycled by plants? How do we supply locally grown food for long-term, permanent habitation in places far, far from home?”

That’s never been done. All life support systems have been tailored to specific missions.

“From Gemini to Apollo, from the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station, the machines that recycle air and water and process human waste are designed for a finite number of astronauts and a specific mission duration,” Staats said. “To rely entirely on Earth-launched cargo is not only cost prohibitive, but keeps the habitats from becoming self-sufficient and able to expand based on resources available to them, in situ.”

Grant Anderson is the president, CEO and co-founder of Paragon Space Development Corporation and has led the systems and conceptual design of multiple spacecraft. Paragon, which designs and delivers integrated life support systems for aviation and aerospace customers and currently is part of the team developing NASA’s new moon lander for the Artemis program, is a consultant on SIMOC.

According to Anderson, there are two ways to close systems now.

The first is a physicochemical system like the Environmental Control and Life Support System aboard the International Space Station. It provides and controls atmospheric pressure, fire detection and suppression, oxygen levels, waste management and water supply. Water and oxygen is shipped up from Earth and onboard technology regenerates them.

The other is a biological life support system like what SIMOC simulates. It’s essentially a little mini biosphere, not unlike the complex north of Tucson.

“That one is … more complex to some degree because you now are having to keep plants alive that then facilitate — I should say your life support system, but they're all part of the same thing, which is closed life support,” Anderson said. “It's just a matter of how much biology you throw in. … The difficulty is really in the implementation of the growing and control systems for the plants.”

Plants process different amounts of oxygen and carbon and carbon dioxide out of the air in different phases of their life. They tend to grow rapidly and then they mature. Their chemical systems don't slow down necessarily, but they redirect chemicals to start producing seed so they can recreate the next generation.

But humans always exhale carbon dioxide, and they always need about the same amount of oxygen.

“So what you have to do is stagger your growth of plants and stuff to produce oxygen and to take carbon dioxide out of the air, so that there's always plants in the right stage of growth,” Anderson said.

Plant-based systems are tricky because you have to have a backup system if they die. You need a physicochemical system to bridge the gap until you solve whatever biological problem you have.

Ray Wheeler has been working on this problem for decades. A plant physiologist by discipline, Wheeler has been head of advanced life support research and development at NASA for years. Currently there’s nothing biological on the International Space Station except a small garden producing a few leafy greens.

A closed biological system is a wicked problem, Wheeler said. Any off-world missions are going to have some amount of resupply involved.

“When you start looking at all the mass balances that are involved as you get more and more tightly closed in terms of the materials and masses, then yeah, you have a lot of these recycle loops that you have to think about,” Wheeler said.

“And they're sort of an esoteric objective of, 'What does it take to get to full closure?' There's one that's maybe a little more practical for space missions. That's, 'How do you become reasonably autonomous with a high degree of closure, but you're not doubling or tripling your complications by getting every last ounce of whatever recycled?' Where you have a kind of a hybrid system where you might import a little bit of really high-value commodities. … Is it more cost effective to have occasional resupply of a small amount of materials versus trying to make everything and recycle everything on-site? A hundred percent closure is interesting, but it's sort of a farther out call in my opinion.”

Paragon did a study about seven years ago for Mars One, the European organization planning to establish a colony on the red planet. Their question was how fast could a purely biological system be created.

The answer was never, Anderson said.

“We said, 'Well, you'll never get a pure biological system. And second of all, it will take at least a decade to set up the systems, make sure they're running correctly, make sure you understand them before you can start trusting them for longer periods of times, but you will always have the problem of eventually something goes wrong.'

"One of the things I'm famous for saying is we'll have a biological-based environmental control system on Mars when we can plunk a small- or a medium-size nuclear reactor on the surface because you need the light. You can't rely on light from the sun because the dust storms can block out the sun for two months.”

Creating an integrated system, let alone a completely closed life support system, is a huge challenge in itself, said Judd Bowman, founding ASU associate lead on the project and an experimental cosmologist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

“After 60 years of spaceflight, we know a lot about the things humans need to consume in order to stay alive in space — exactly how much water to drink, oxygen to breathe, protein to eat in our food, etc. — and we know exactly what we give off in return through breathing, shedding dead skins cells, and things like that,” Bowman said.

“NASA has even compiled a giant list of all of this, like how many milligrams of fingernails the average human grows per day — it’s crazy!  Over the same period, NASA and others have also studied in exquisite detail the rate at which plants can produce the things we need and consume the things we give off, like carbon dioxide. … What I’ve learned from working with Kai and through SIMOC is that, despite all of this knowledge, we are still pretty inexperienced with putting all of the pieces together. We literally can’t make a forest from the trees. We really don’t understand, yet, how to maintain a balanced system over a long term.”

SIMOC is not only an educational tool, but a research tool as well, Staats said. Absolutely everything in space — every rocket, every spacesuit, every habitat — has years of research and validation in models behind it.

“If SIMOC can play a part, supporting PhD researchers while engaging middle school students in habitat design, data generation and analysis, then we will be a part of the next big human adventure story,” he said.

When our species reaches for the stars, we will take the bare necessities to survive, just as past explorers did. Learning how to survive in space will make humans better stewards of Earth.

“And when we come home again, we carry a totally new perspective with which to approach old issues,” Staats said. “Going to Mars is not about abandoning Earth or ignoring the problems we face here, it’s about unifying around a new, great adventure and giving the next generation something bold to aspire to.”

Running simulations on SIMOC, you quickly realize that everything affects everything else. The same holds true for life on Earth, Bowman said.

“Awareness is imperative if we are to climb out of this climate change conundrum we have created,” he said. “SIMOC is a tool for designing Mars habitats, but it is also a means for learning about the large yet closed ecosystem that we already occupy.”

Teaching that to students is one of the reasons the National Geographic Society got behind the project and co-sponsored it, said Tyson Brown, director of the society’s resource library.

“One of the ways I saw SIMOC as a value to students is because though it’s representing a relatively simple environment with just a fixed number of variables, it produces an incredibly complex modeled environment,” Brown said. “If students see how they can scale that up to what’s on Earth where you have an infinitely more complex model, I think they’re going to gain a lot of value and hopefully some empathy for the planet and the ways they can help protect our resources and other species that live on it.”

Developers hope SIMOC will become a valuable tool for researchers. A real hab on Mars or the moon might have its foundation in the simulation. Last year a student team from Dartmouth won a NASA lunar greenhouse challenge using the SIMOC engine for its plant growth models. Staats and his team published a paper at the International Conference on Environmental Systems about their experiment in plant physiology to guide the plant growth model.

That’s a big part of the reason SIMOC consulted with top experts in academia, NASA and New Space companies, and used real NASA data.

“We often talk about video games and movies as incredibly realistic, but that doesn’t make them authentic,” Staats said. “To be immersed in an alternative reality can be wonderfully engaging, but our goal was to build a platform for research and education built on the real thing — expertise in human-in-the-loop closed ecosystems and decades of data. … Three years of studying literature, collecting data, building and testing our models resulted in the platform we have launched — a high-fidelity simulation of a habitat on Mars.”

Understanding the dynamics of running a life support system with all of the different variables and sources and sinks for water and hydrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide and waste materials is very important, Anderson said.

“If you don't run those simulations, you don't know what you're up against. And you can do 'what if?' analysis without hurting anybody,” he said. “You need to do a lot of that before you get to Mars to understand. Do you have enough contingency to take care of all the potential problems?”

Brown has run simulations many times on SIMOC.

“It’s definitely a complicated task,” he said. “Even when you’re just trying to provide the bare minimum to these folks traveling so far from the reserves we have . … The difference between being 250 miles above Earth and being on Mars is just incredible.”

SIMOC is an ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration Interplanetary Initiative pilot project, funded June 2017 through June 2019. It is now licensed by National Geographic from April 2020 through March 2021, for inclusion in their Education Resource Library.

Top image: Courtesy of Bryan Versteeg of Spacehabs.com.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU Sun Devil Marching Band’s video cheers on Sun Devil Nation

May 28, 2020

The Arizona State University Sun Devil Marching Band, School of Music and Sun Devil Athletics banded together to create a virtual performance of the fight song to show support and build encouragement for Sun Devil Nation. And through the project, the students making the video also found support and encouragement for themselves.

“In my college experience, there is truly no family like the ASU Sun Devil Marching Band program, and working with my friends to create this really fun piece of music was almost as rewarding as performing with them out in the Tempe heat,” said Shawn Schive, a junior studying music learning and teaching. Sun Devil marching band Sun Devil Marching Band students performing in the video. Download Full Image

Schive, who plays trumpet in the marching band, volunteered to spearhead the project and coordinate and edit the video after William Kennedy, associate athletic director of Sun Devil Athletics, and James Hudson, director of athletic bands, proposed the idea of making a video.

“I am very proud of all the students who participated and of Shawn for his hard work,” Hudson said. “I also think it’s really cool seeing a bassoon and a French horn in a marching band video! It really shows how our students are involved in and play other instruments in the School of Music.”

“It was great to play the fight song one last time with some of the band members,” said Jalen Montgomery, an undergraduate music education major and member of the band’s leadership team. “I play tuba in the marching band but did not have access to a tuba, so I had to learn the fight song on the bassoon and had fun. This collaboration showed me that musicians can always come together and play music together even through social distancing.”

Jasmine Salazar, an undergraduate music learning and teaching major, said that she had struggled with moving to an online platform with classes.

“Being a part of this collaboration allowed me to do something that I enjoy and brought on a sense of purpose for me during this chaotic time,” Salazar said. “It was a way to connect with others, create music and show my pride of being a Sun Devil.”

Music performance major Alexander DeFrances, who plays trumpet, said it was great to be a part of the collaboration even while everyone was so far apart. 

“We're still able to listen to each other, speak with each other and perform with each other,” DeFrances said. “It's special that nothing can stop our love for performing.”


Video courtesy Samuel Peña, community engagement coordinator, School of Music  

Schive said in addition to collecting videos of other musicians in the band, he also received videos from the band’s drum majors, baton twirlers and flag and dance team members.

“I believe a lot can be said about the music community and the amount of creativity and innovation that I have seen in the last few weeks,” Schive said. “Music is truly universal and comes in many different forms, and the online response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been truly inspirational for me. Through this project and so many I have seen in the online music world, I think that there is something that we can all learn about the power of community even when we need to stay inside for our health.”

The Sun Devil Club also released a longer version of the Sun Devil Marching Band video that features messages from athletic staff and coaches.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


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Facing the strange changes

May 28, 2020

ASU storytelling initiative launches latest venture to explore the power of transformative experiences

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that the only constant is change. It would stand to reason, then, that we’d be wise to prepare ourselves for it. Only, that’s now how life works. Change is often unexpected, sometimes painful and always transformative.

In the midst of a world beset with unprecedented change, the Narrative Storytelling Initiative at Arizona State University has launched its latest venture: an online magazine titled Transformations, a collaboration with the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Transformations features personal essays inspired by the belief that sharing transformative stories has the power to influence the trajectory of our lives.

Though the project was conceived of long before the coronavirus crisis upended life as we know it, Transformations editor and director of ASU’s Narrative Storytelling Initiative Steven Beschloss acknowledges in a note from the editor that it couldn’t be more relevant to the project’s purpose, writing, “In this particular moment, a global pandemic asks each of us to rethink the lives we’ve had, the choices we’ve made, and the choices we need to make in the coming months and years.”

At launch time, Transformations features six essays, five of which were written by ASU professors, though Beschloss said the magazine welcomes submissions beyond professors and the university, expecting to publish one new essay each week.

“In many ways, the impetus for the site was my belief that successful, creative people can identify personal moments in their lives that have been important catalysts for change and help define who they are,” he said. “I felt if we could work with people to unearth some of those experiences and then write narratively about them, then we could produce a compelling collection of stories that would be of interest and of value to a wider public.”

In addition, Transformations features visual art (Herberger Institute faculty Turner Davis created illustrations for two of the original essays) as well as one-minute video essays in which experts in their field share brief insights on topics ranging from creativity to fear to belonging.

The question of belonging is one ASU Dean of Social Sciences Pardis Mahdavi explored in both her video essay and her written essay, the latter of which expands on the former in fleshing out two life-changing incidents that led her to the realization that as an Iranian American, she didn’t have to identify as just one or the other — she could live in both worlds.

“I used to feel so alone, but there are so many people like me who share the experience of having this liminal existence, of feeling betwixt and between,” she said. “But we can find power (there).”

Mahdavi was a natural choice as a contributor to the Transformations project — she also serves as director of ASU’s School of Social Transformation. And while she had already agreed to contribute back in December 2019, she believes the project launch is well-timed, however unfortunately, considering the light recent events have shone on the need for societal change.

“I think the pandemic has exposed a lot of the most stark inequalities in our society, including the intersectional issues of race and class,” she said. “As an author, I feel like I succeeded when I get people to think about things in a different way, and this project is an opportunity to collectively pause and think about what kind of societies and what kind of changes we want to make going forward, and what are the ingredients that go into the recipe of transformation.”

Fellow contributor William Hohenstein, a professor emeritus in Sociology at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, has been passionate about social justice his whole life. His essay, “Lessons in Violence and Change,” relays a traumatic childhood experience and how it influenced his passion for understanding the ways in which forces outside of our control can have untold consequences on our lives.

Throughout his career, Hohenstein has been involved in researching capital punishment, prison reform and gender and racial disparities. After writing his essay for Transformations, he felt inspired to continue writing, exploring questions of justice in short pieces that he shares with friends, colleagues and former students. In regard to the coronavirus crisis, though he says it has not greatly affected him personally, he does foresee it causing great change on a larger scale.

“I believe that it’s going to change a lot about the ways we live our lives,” he said. “But I don’t know what that’s going to look like, or how that’s going to affect social inequalities. I just know that things are going to be different — and hopefully better.”

Top illustration by Turner G. Davis for the ASU Narrative Storytelling Initiative.

The show must go on virtually: ASU Gammage High School Musical Theatre Awards celebrate performance

May 27, 2020

Although in-person award shows have been put on hold for the time being, that didn’t stop the sixth annual ASU Gammage High School Musical Theatre Awards (HSMTA) from taking the virtual stage on Saturday, May 23. The online event recognized and celebrated Valley high school students and faculty that produced musical theater programs for the 2019-2020 school year.

Desiree Ong, educational enrichment program manager of ASU Gammage, said the team at ASU Gammage still wanted to offer a way for students to celebrate their hard work. group photo of high school theater students on stage Chandler High School won best musical award for its production of “All Shook Up.” Download Full Image

“The class of 2020 has had such a difficult year, and with other ceremonies and events getting canceled, we still wanted to hold our celebration, even if it meant going online,” Ong said. “We want to send a message that the arts are important and valued in our community, and we want to encourage students to pursue their passion and continue their lifelong love of the performing arts.”

Last fall, 24 Valley high schools were chosen through an application process. Of the 24 schools, 15 were able to finish their productions before statewide school closures.

The first half of the ASU Gammage HSMTA Virtual Showcase featured short video performances from the 24 schools. Winners were announced in 14 categories, selected by a panel of adjudicators comprised of theater professionals, teachers and enthusiasts in Arizona.

Chandler High School won the best musical award for its production of “All Shook Up.” Brach Drew of Marcos De Niza High School won best lead male for his portrayal of The Cat in the Hat in “Seussical.” Angelica Santana of Dobson High School won best lead female for her performance of Nina in “In the Heights.”

Normally, the two winners would go on to compete in the national HSMTA (known as the Jimmy Awards) in New York City. Unfortunately, the 2020 Jimmy Awards were canceled. Instead, this year’s winners each received $500 due to the generosity of ASU Gammage VIP patrons Pat Langlin-Brazil and Ronald J. Harten.

The ASU Gammage Leadership Award is normally presented to two graduating seniors for their leadership not only on the stage, but in their community and school. This year, four graduating seniors were chosen and granted $500 to use toward furthering their education: Macey Clausen from Casteel High School, Aunah Johnson from Shadow Mountain High School, Jordan Wiener from Arizona School for the Arts and Luke Morton from Williams Field High School.

The participating schools were American Leadership Academy Gilbert North, American Leadership Academy Queen Creek, Arizona School for the Arts, Casteel High School, Centennial High School, Chandler High School, Chaparral High School, Desert Mountain High School, Dobson High School, Hamilton High School, Marcos De Niza High School, Maricopa High School, Mingus Union High School, New School for the Arts and Academics, Notre Dame Preparatory High School, Perry High School, Phoenix Country Day School, Queen Creek High School, Red Mountain High School, Saguaro High School, Sandra Day O’Connor High School, Shadow Mountain High School, Shadow Ridge High School and Williams Field High School.

“It’s been a really difficult year for everyone, and we want you to know at ASU Gammage, we are here to support you, and we look forward to you all returning to the theater,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage and ASU vice president for cultural affairs, in a closing statement on the night of the ceremony. “We look forward to the time when we all can be together.”

Going out with a 'bang'

Growing up in an athletic-centered household, the only time HSMTA lead male winner Brach Drew heard the phrase, “It’s showtime,” was in regard to game day. However, all that changed when Drew auditioned and got into his first play in the fourth grade. After having to do his first quick change in the school’s restroom and making it back to the stage in time to meet the expressions of audience members, he knew the connection he had made with them was something special. 

Since then, Drew has been in musical after musical. A native to Tempe, Arizona, his Christmas present for the past three years has been season tickets to ASU Gammage. 

Brach Drew

2020 HSMTA best lead male winner Brach Drew

Like so many other performers, Drew didn’t realize Marcos De Niza High School’s production of “Seussical” would be the last he performed in before statewide school closures.

“We went out with a bang, and I’m really grateful for that,” Drew said. 

On the night of the HSMTA ceremony, Drew sat huddled with his family in the living room and kept a Zoom call open with his fellow cast members. When he heard his name called for best lead male, Drew felt relieved.

“I put in so much work the past four years of high school developing my craft, and it paid off with receiving this recognition,” he said.

Drew remembers that when he was a freshman, his fellow Marcos de Niza actor Briana Fleming won the 2017 best lead female award. He got to congratulate her and the two took a picture together. It was in that moment that Drew decided he would work hard and do whatever it took to get there — and get there he has done.

To his theater director Patrick McChesney, saying “thank you” hardly feels like enough, he said.

“Know that everything I’m doing is to show gratitude for what you gave me — all the time, the energy, the sacrifices you’ve made for my growth. I will not take these things for granted, and I will live my life and perform, because it’s you I give credit to,” Drew said.

Being heavily involved in high school, Drew said he hopes young adults will take advantage of their time and enjoy the fullness of their high school experience because it could change in an instant.

“The idea of being yourself is excruciatingly important in musical theater, performance and life,” he said. 

Drew will be majoring in theater arts at the University of Arizona in the fall. With the funds awarded, he hopes to use it to pay for materials needed in his theater classes. He also is interested in pursuing a minor in Spanish or American Sign Language to become an interpreter.

Taking a bow

HSMTA lead female winner Angelica Santana’s theater journey started her freshman year at Dobson High School. Her school was putting on a production of “The Little Mermaid,” but her cross-country practices interfered with her getting the chance to audition. Her sophomore year, a group of friends and her boyfriend encouraged her to audition for “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Santana initially thought she hadn’t made it in due to another student with the same first name getting cast. After a conversation with her theater director Simon Navarro, however, she realized she had gotten a role in the ensemble.

“I used to have the biggest stage fright, but after performing in that show, all of that went away and I just wanted to get better so I could get a bigger role in the future,” she said. 

Angelica Santana

2020 HSMTA best lead female winner Angelica Santana

After much hard work and dedication, Santana landed the role of Nina in her school’s production of “In the Heights.” Although the school never got to perform the show, Santana was still able to create a video submission for the HSMTA ceremony of her singing “Breathe.”

Santana watched the awards ceremony in her living room with her boyfriend and younger sister. When it was announced that she had won best lead female, she felt as if she’d stopped breathing.

“My jaw just dropped, my hands went over my face and I just started crying,” Santana said. “It was such a surreal moment and felt like the cherry on top; it was sad that we didn’t get to perform our show, but I was super excited that I had won.”

Santana said her choir director Whitney Murray made her into the singer that she is today, and Navarro supported her to get her to a higher place each year. At the end of the day, she said that’s all she could ask for.

Santana will be majoring in social work at Arizona State University’s West campus in the fall. She hopes to continue theater in some capacity during college, whether that be in a club or community production.

“Theater holds such a special place in my heart — with all of the friends and people that I’ve met through it,” she said. “It’s just a big part of my life now.”

Marketing Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage

Frozen in time: A film student's creative response to the pandemic

May 27, 2020

As a new member of Herberger Institute Professor Daniel Bernard Roumain’s DBR Lab, ASU film student Keegan Carlson was looking forward to performing with the lab at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York, this spring. When plans for that culminating performance came to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carlson found himself, like so many other students, socially distancing and “meeting” with his fellow lab members over Zoom.

One day, on a bike ride through downtown Phoenix with his boyfriend, Carlson was drawn to a group of life-size sculpted figures by artist John Waddell outside Herberger Theater. Keegan Carlson Filmmaker Keegan Carlson. Download Full Image

“The statues of the dancers frozen in time spoke to me,” Carlson said.

Inspired, he made a short film titled "Humanity In Us."

“After I pieced together the film, I immediately wanted Daniel to be a part of it,” Carlson said. “Every week since we’ve been in quarantine, we’ve been talking about this whole coronavirus thing in class. And Daniel is an incredible composer.”

Roumain was impressed by Carlson’s work.

“I think this is a good example of an ASU student responding to the most urgent and critical needs facing our communities, with grace within their creative practice,” Roumain said.

A Phoenix-based filmmaker in his final year at ASU, Carlson plans to graduate in December with a degree in film and media production with an emphasis on directing. In 2018, he won best director for his film “Lemonade” at the Scottsdale Short Film Festival and was an official selection for the Phoenix Film Festival.

“Humanity in Us” is the first time Carlson has collaborated with Roumain directly.

“Working with Daniel has been more than anything inspiring,” Carlson said. “He has such a way of motivating and validating us as artists. He has a great way of making us feel like all the work we are doing is so important. That motivation alone has helped tremendously, let alone all his real-life experience and knowledge that he’s sharing with all the lab members. It’s been really great learning the business side of putting on a show, learning about Daniel’s professional career and how he got there.”

Video courtesy Keegan Carlson

Carlson said that the powerful message in his film is “elevated by the extremely emotional and moving score.”

“I hope that this film is a message and a reminder for people to really think about how they treat other people during this time,” Carlson said. “I hope it moves you to hold your hand out to people in need and share and be compassionate.”

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


Cancer gets a 'bad' rap

Cell meets song when rap musician and cancer scientist connect to create new music video

May 26, 2020

When it comes to helping understand cancer, Athena Aktipis wants to get her point across — not just to other researchers, but to anyone who will listen.

A cancer researcher at Arizona State University, Aktipis is also co-founder of the Arizona Cancer Evolution Center (ACE) at ASU, launched in 2018 with a grant of $8.5 million from the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute. ACE is one of 13 international hubs for helping researchers understand cancer through the lenses of evolution and ecology.  Athena Aktipis is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University and director of ASU’s Cooperation and Conflict Lab. Professor Aktipis studies cooperation across systems from human sharing to cancer. Download Full Image

Aktipis is also associate faculty at ASU’s Biodesign Institute  and an associate professor of psychology. As scientific director of ASU’s Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative, Aktipis' research focuses on how evolution shapes cooperation and conflict at the level of genes, cells, groups and whole societies.

But Aktipis doesn’t leave science at the laboratory door — or in the halls of academia.

“I see science itself as a creative expedition,” she said. “We can’t make progress in science without expanding our minds and looking at things from different perspectives. Science and artists have a lot in common — we all are trying to understand and make sense of the world and then share that with others.” Aktipis is also the host and producer of the science and humor podcast “Zombified.” 

One creative collaboration resulted in the creation of a new rap video, “Revenge of the Somatic.” Aktipis worked with internationally known rap music artist Baba Brinkman to tell the story of how cancer connects to evolution. Brinkman released the song “Revenge of the Somatic” on his 2015 album, “The Rap Guide to Medicine.”

The recent publication of Aktipis’ book, “The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer,” presented a new opportunity for Aktipis to meld her interests with Brinkman’s talents. Working with animator Dave Anderson, they brought to life the world of a cell that rebels against the multicellular body, transforming into a cancer cell and then growing and dividing as the cellular rebellion grows.  

Video courtesy Baba Brinkman. Note: Some of the lyrics are mature in nature.

“As a middle-class white Canadian, I’ve always been a fan of politically radical rap music but never really had the kind of firsthand experience with oppression that the artists articulate in their lyrics,” Brinkman said. “So when Athena reached out and told me about cancer as a form of cellular rebellion, my first thought was ‘This calls for some rebel music!’”

Working with veteran U.K. producer Mr. Simmonds, Brinkman crafted a “freedom song” with a twist, making the protagonist a cancer cell yearning for the freedom of its wild ancestors who didn’t have to conform to the oppressive “corporate system” of the multicellular body.

Baba Brinkman is a New York-based rap artist and award-winning playwright, originally from Vancouver, Canada.

“I can honestly say that Baba's creative way of presenting the challenges of cancer through the eyes of a cancer cell affected how I thought about cancer as I worked on subsequent research papers and my book,” Aktipis said. “This is a brilliant case of science influencing the arts, as well as vice versa.”

According to New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer, “Baba Brinkman's song about cancer is blisteringly clever, summing up complex biological concepts in irresistible rhymes.”

“Revenge of the Somatic”

Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/80vc4G0ipi8     

Listen on iTunes: https://apple.co/2T6aqAC        

Listen to Brinkman’s "Rap Guide to Medicine"

Written by Dianne Price

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ASU architecture students experience 'life-changing' Roden Crater during housing-design project

May 26, 2020

Class proposes temporary lodging designs that create sense of community for those working on remote large-scale art installation

Sixteen Arizona State University architecture students were tapped to provide design work around one of the most important large-scale artworks in the world — Roden Crater, the installation created by James Turrell in northern Arizona.

The undergraduates participated in a fourth-year studio course this spring that had a unique assignment: propose designs for temporary housing for construction crews who are working on Roden Crater.

The students were able to visit the crater, an immersive observatory inside a dormant volcano that is seen by only a few hundred people every year. The artwork is still under construction and is not yet open to the public.

The experience was awe-inspiring, and the project was a challenge, according to Marc Neveu, head of the architecture program in The Design School at ASU.

The remote area has no access to power and water, and the housing had to be out of sight from the crater itself. The goal is to preserve the surrounding natural environment.

“So it was complicated for a whole list of reasons,” Neveu said.

About an hour drive from Flagstaff, Roden Crater is on a dirt road and remains closed to the public. Inside the crater, which is a volcanic cinder cone, Turrell has designed over 20 chambers and spaces to experience celestial events and seasonal alignments. At any one time, there are several dozen construction workers carrying out Turrell’s vision.

“James Turrell thought it would be interesting to think about temporary housing for these contractors,” Neveu said. “And we were thinking about other groups of people who could be working there — archeologists and students, who would all be short-term.

“So the question of community came up. How do you build community?”

About three weeks into the semester, the group visited Roden Crater, which has several installations within the cone, including a 900-foot-long tunnel that plays with the view at the end.

“Walking through the tunnel, I knew what was going to happen,” Neveu said. “I knew that the circle would become an eclipse, but there’s moment of magic when you see it that you just can’t describe.

“It’s an uncanny experience, and it’s hard to find the words.”

Dellan Raish was one of the students in the class.

“To be inside and experience that with your own perception and eyes was life-changing,” Raish said.

“The way he tunes each space to capture the light and give you a different perspective on the sky is like sensory overload.”

Each student in the class created their own version of a low-impact, flexible, temporary group of dwellings.

“In terms of construction, they looked at different things, like rammed earth, which has a zero carbon footprint,” Neveu said.

“The material is right there, and the walls can go back into the ground if people leave.”

Other students, including Nasrynn Chowdhury, proposed prefabricated dwellings.

“It had to be temporary so we weren’t meant to be building with concrete,” she said.

“I decided to do a series of structures that would be made in a factory and brought to the site. They would be on these steel screw-pile foundations so they didn’t touch the ground.”

The dwellings could be removed with nothing left on the ground except a few holes.

Chowdhury took a highly flexible approach.

“It has a movable kitchen that’s able to slide into each unit,” she said. “During the night you can make the space into a bedroom and during the day you can create a larger space with both units and slide the kitchen out.

“I understood there would be different needs. Construction workers might want to rest while students might want to be more social.”

Raish designed two rows of buildings with a courtyard in the middle.

“That was to save power and water and by turning off different wings of the buildings when people are not occupying them,” he said.

Seeing Turrell’s work was profound for the students.

“They balanced the extremely practical with the poetic and tried to not just think about the crater, but how a building orients a person in the landscape,” Neveu said.

“You see the Painted Desert miles away and the San Francisco Peaks miles away. The quality of the light and the quality of the sky is very different from here, and that informed a lot of the projects.”

After spring break, the course moved to Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The students used breakout rooms in the online platform to continue collaborating.

In a typical studio course, the end of the semester brings a review in which the students formally present their projects to three or four experts. Instead, this class had a huge Zoom gathering in which the students presented to 45 experts from around the world.

“Presenting in front of people can sometimes get the best of you,” Chowdhury said. “But because this was on Zoom, it felt a lot more interactive because everyone was seeing the same thing and they were able to write comments directly into it, which made it feel more like a workshop rather than not really understanding their feedback.”

Raish said that at the more formal presentations, students almost “black out.”

“Most of the time, students don’t remember what anyone is saying, but this was one of my best reviews because we could record it and watch it back,” he said.

The students’ proposals will be collected and presented to Turrell later this summer.

The architecture studio was part of a burgeoning partnership between Turrell and ASU that has led to the development of ongoing academic experimentation. Several ASU students visited Roden Crater last year as part of four pilot lab courses.

Neveu is teaching an iCourse starting July 1 called “James Turrell and Roden Crater: Working at the Intersection of Art, Design, Science and Technology,” which will examine the installation from different perspectives. The course has no prerequisites and is open to anyone.

While Roden Crater is open only to invited guests while under construction, anyone can experience Turrell’s work manipulating light and perception. “Air Apparent,” just south of Biodesign C on ASU’s Tempe campus, was installed in 2012 and is open to the public 24 hours a day. Part of Turrell’s Skyspace series, “Air Apparent” is best enjoyed at sunset.

Top photo: Marc Neveu (left), head of the architecture program in The Design School at ASU, and his students pose for a group photo near Roden Crater in northern Arizona. Photo courtesy of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Online event to gather Phoenix-area storytellers

'The Spirit of Togetherness' set as the theme for second edition of ASU Kerr's monthly 'Gather' event, May 27

May 20, 2020

ASU Kerr will present “Gather,” a live online storytelling event, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 27, via the venue’s Facebook page at facebook.com/asukerr/live.

The second installation of this monthly digital event series will feature an all-female cohort of storytellers: Angelica Lindsey-Ali, Kimberly Allen and Abigail B. Fouts. The theme for this month’s “Gather” is “The Spirit of Togetherness.” Angelica Lindsey-Ali poses in blue garment and hijab Angelica Lindsey-Ali — Muslim women's sex, love and wellness expert, podcast host and touring performer with The Moth Mainstage — will share a story on May 27 as part of ASU Kerr's "Gather" storytelling event.

Lindsey-Ali is the host of Phoenix’s “The Moth StorySLAM” and travels as a “Moth Mainstage” performer. Known as “The Village Auntie,” she “utilizes her extensive cultural, clinical and religious training to educate women about intimacy and sex through an Islamic lens,” she said.

She has over 20 years of experience in women’s wellness and has a following of women from 83 countries who seek her heart-centered, practical advice on intimacy, love and relationships. She hosts the award-winning international podcast “Lights On” produced by Amaliah, a U.K.-based Muslim women’s media outlet.

Allen says she is an experienced and enthusiastic leader who has served in various roles focused on leadership development and education. Allen is associate director of programs for Year Up Arizona and owner of Cultural Perspectives, an educational consulting company with an emphasis in coaching at all levels and leadership development.

Fouts moved to Arizona with her husband and two dogs in May 2018, she said. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from BYU-Hawaii and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah, and she is director of compliance for the Jewish Family and Children’s Service. She writes poetry and short-form fiction and has performed in bands and concert choirs. Fouts says she uses storytelling as a way to explore her "childhood as an adopted black Mormon in an increasingly white space.”

“We are gathering to celebrate and support storytellers and their stories, while helping audiences, artists and the venue stay connected to one another.”

— Tracey Mason, ASU Kerr general manager

The “Gather” series was created by staffers at ASU Kerr and ASU Gammage who are active in the storytelling and poetry communities.

“They were inspired by the astounding talent of Phoenix metro area storytellers,” said ASU Kerr General Manager Tracey Mason. “We are gathering to celebrate and support storytellers and their stories, while helping audiences, artists and the venue stay connected to one another.”

The series is part of several ongoing livestreamed events that ASU Kerr is broadcasting via Facebook Live. Event information can be viewed at asukerr.com or facebook.com/asukerr.

Comedian, public official Kristina Wong for the win

How the performance artist serves her community and gears up for upcoming ASU Gammage show

May 18, 2020

When California’s shelter-in-place order was issued in March of this year, Los Angeles comedian Kristina Wong had grandiose plans of cleaning her house and sticking to a workout regimen.

Instead, Wong found herself fronting an amateur medical factory right from her living room and becoming “sweatshop overlord” to Auntie Sewing Squad, a group that now includes more than 600 members that dedicate their time and resources to creating face masks for health care professionals and other essential workers.  Kristina Wong's show, "Kristina Wong for Public Office," draws from her experiences as a public official. It will air through ASU Gammage’s Facebook page on May 28. Download Full Image

“This is what we do now as performance artists — create and fix medical equipment,” Wong jokingly said.

The currency the squad deals in is fabric, elastic and the time put into making masks. While most people who are staying at home are on a Netflix-binge marathon, Wong and her crew are on a sewing one. On Thursday, Auntie Sewing Squad sent a van full of supplies, including masks, materials and three sewing machines, to the Navajo Nation, which has been hard hit by the virus. 

“I’m like, ‘How did I go from sewing a few masks to humanitarian aid missions?’ But this is the country we live in,” Wong said. “We have no government that’s functioning, so we have to do what we can.”

Armed with her Hello Kitty sewing machine, Wong said the work she does is not just about making masks; it’s about the community that’s been built and the way its sustained itself to protect the community at large.

“This is where I see my work as an artist,” Wong said. “We’re in the business of making communities and trying to engage people in meaningful ways, so for me, I don’t want people to create a labor farm, but I want people to find friendship, meaning and power in this work.”

Wong said, “If you’re bored at home, think about the power that you do have right now, and how you can be of support to other people.”

Performance artist turned politician

Besides being a performance artist, Wong is an actual elected representative from Koreatown’s Wilshire Center Neighborhood Council. Her new show, “Kristina Wong for Public Office,” draws from her experiences as a public official to highlight a campaign-based performance of satire and political commentary.The show began its tour in February 2020 before being halted due to COVID-19. 

Even so, that hasn’t stopped Wong from continuing her show, which will be available through ASU Gammage’s Facebook page at 6 p.m. May 28. “Excerpts from Kristina Wong for Public Office” will be Wong’s first attempt at shifting her show to a virtual format.

READ MORE: More information on “Excerpts from Kristina Wong for Public Office” and other upcoming virtual events

“I have to dust off this old show — which isn’t even that old — but my mind and body have been in such a different place that I’ll have to integrate some of these new stories I have and still give it that ‘rally’ feel from my living room,” Wong said.

Wong said that although she wishes things were different, she’s happy to see artists try to embrace performing in a virtual format.

“The bar is so low — I don’t think anyone is expecting Zoom theater to blow them away — so there’s a lot of discovery to be made.”

Wong said she thinks people have felt helpless over the last few years, and her show aims to empower the audience.

“I ended up running for office because even as an artist, I couldn’t outdo the spectacle of real life anymore,” Wong said. “I thought, ‘If they’re going to take my job, I’m going to take theirs.’ A lot of what I’m discovering now during this time is just how inept the system is, the one that’s supposed to protect us, because it’s so slow, because it’s so mired in approvals and politics and filibusters, that citizens who take direct action can actually get more done.”

In the world of government, Wong said that a lot of what politicians do is not that much different from artists; they create a lot of symbolic gestures and are actors in a public space.

“All we have right now are symbols, because we don’t have soap apparently, or vaccines and stuff like that,” she said. “So that’s power to me, and where our art is power. Putting symbols and culture and messages out into the world, but also action.”

Wong said she encourages folks to run for office, vote and not totally give up on the system when action can be taken.

“I feel like I’ve done more work in the last few months to help my community than I have as an elected official, and that’s a big question of the show: Am I more powerful as an elected official than as an artist?”

Marketing Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage